'The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion's AI Had To Be Dumbed Down To Save The Game

'The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion's AI Had To Be Dumbed Down To Save The Game

Gamers usually clown on the AI from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion because the NPCs act in a rather dumb way, one that seems to go well beyond the bewilderment we'd expect from uneducated peasants living in a fictional medieval world where all religions have real deities behind them. These NPCs aren't dumb in the regular NPC-dumb kind of way, either– it's almost as if they're being dumb in a cleverly thought-out manner. Turns out that this isn't because they're poorly coded, but because they were coded so well at some point that the devs had to perform a worldwide lobotomy to prevent them from taking over the world.

In the final version of the game, a specific NPC can accidentally fall off a bridge to his death without players even noticing. This bars players from ever getting to buy a house in the game. What the hell is this all about? That's a failed instance of an NPC making use of the Radiant AI, the revolutionary AI tech that Bethesda made for the game. Bethesda wanted the game to feel alive, and the best way to make that a reality was to create an AI system deep enough to equip every single NPC with their own lives, wants, and needs. The devs originally boasted about the NPCs interacting with each other and doing realistic stuff like eating and having conversations with one another, but they ended up mostly just talking total gibberish and taking hours to eat a single piece of fruit. Were the devs at Bethesda lying, or did they make a catastrophic coding mistake near the end of the development process? It turns out that these NPCs ended up that way out of necessity. 

The developers learned the wrong way that having NPCs with unique desires can result in some awesomely unpredictable events, yes, but it mostly results in NPCs going on a murderous rampage in the search for other NPCs who have booze in their inventory. As soon as the game begins, not just the NPCs in our line of sight, but the NPCs from all around the world would begin either murdering each other or committing petty crimes that would end up getting them killed by the accidentally realistic police. The devs saw no other solution than to just dumb the NPCs the hell down, a small price to pay for the beautiful dadaist art that are the NPC interactions we can witness in the final game.

Top Image: Bethesda

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